The third step of Duke’s run up to the new basketball season arrives Saturday with its only public exhibition game.
Winston-Salem State is the opposition for the No. 9 Blue Devils for the 1:30 p.m. contest that will be Duke’s final tuneup before opening the season Nov. 9 against No. 10 Kentucky.
The exhibition with Winston-Salem State comes as the Blue Devils are getting closer to full strength on the court once again.
AJ Griffin, the freshman forward who sprained his right knee earlier this month, returned to practice. While his status for Saturday’s exhibition is yet to be finalized, the 6-6, 222-pound Griffin is looking more and more like he’ll be ready to open the season against Kentucky at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A week later, at the Countdown to Craziness scrimmage at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Griffin was walking without crutches. He didn’t play during Duke’s closed scrimmage with Villanova last Saturday but he was in uniform on the bench.
Since returning to practice, he’s doing plenty to reclaim his spot in Duke’s player rotation.
“He’s not trying to fit in,” Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell said Thursday. “He’s trying to stand out, which makes him better, makes our team better.”
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, on his SiriusXM radio show Basketball and Beyond on Thursday, said Griffin, “has played well in those practices.”
While the question of whether or not Griffin will play is one thing to watch on Saturday, here are a few more topics about the Blue Devils:
Starting five coming together?
Well, again that depends upon Griffin’s availability. But, without him, Duke is using junior forward Wendell Moore, sophomore guard Jeremy Roach, sophomore center Mark Williams and freshmen forward Paolo Banchero and freshman guard Trevor Keels.
Theo John, a 6-9, 242-pound center who previously played at Marquette, will be an important player off the bench providing needed help inside to spell Williams.
Griffin, senior forward Joey Baker and freshman guard Jaylen Blakes comprise Duke’s depth on the perimeter, although Carrawell said Griffin is capable of playing anywhere on the court.
While Moore and Roach started for Duke last season, the Blue Devils needed at least two freshmen to prove worthy of big minutes immediately this season.
The 6-10, 250-pound Banchero, projected to be one of the top picks in next summer’s NBA Draft, is obviously one of those players.
Keels, at a solid 6-4 and 221 pounds, has proven to be another.
“He just turned 18 but he plays like he’s 25,” Carrawell said. “He’s really poised. He can do it all. He can defend. He can shoot. He can make plays for others. He’s competitive and he’s a winner.”
What did Duke learn from its Villanova scrimmage?
The Blue Devils didn’t play a full 40-minute game-style scrimmage with No. 4 Villanova in Washington, D.C., last Saturday. But the situational work over two and a half hours allowed the coaches to get a strong look at where the team is with the season drawing closer.
“Either way against Villanova, it was a win-win so to speak,” Carrawell said. “If you didn’t play well, you know where you are at. We did some really good things against a team that’s going to be right there at the end. For us to come out there and play hard and compete against a veteran team is encouraging.”
The teams played a 20-minute half as well as another 10 minutes where they both played exclusively zone defense. They also worked on end of game situations, playing a final three minutes starting with Duke up by six points and another three minutes starting with Villanova up six points.
Lessons learned from that day were put into action in practice this week and that process will continue in the exhibition against Winston-Salem State.